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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Mar 1961

Vol. 187 No. 5

Juries Bill, 1960—Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill provides for easing certain hardships of jury service occurring at present or liable to occur in the County Boroughs and Counties of Cork, Limerick and Waterford, either through jurors having to serve too frequently or having to travel unduly long distances to County Borough Courts from remote parts of these counties.

This arises chiefly from the provision in the present law whereby juries for Circuit Court sittings in a county borough are drawn from the county borough or the county, according as the case is a county borough or county case. In Cork in particular this system has not been entirely happy in operation, because, owing to the insufficient number of jurors in the county borough, their frequency of service is as much as once in one and a quarter years, while at the same time, the remoteness of parts of the county from the city obliges county jurors to travel excessive distances when required for county cases triable in the county borough. In recent times the position in the county borough has been made more difficult still by the development of High Court jury trials there, all the jurors for which are drawn from the county borough.

The remedy provided in the Bill is that jury panels for all County Borough trials shall be drawn partly from the County Borough and partly from the County or from a certain District or Districts of the County, as may be specified by the Minister for Justice by Order. Thus, in the case of Cork City the adjacent County areas, where the frequency of jury service is of the order of once in 10 years, can be joined with the County Borough to average the frequency of jury service more equitably, while at the same time the jurors outside these areas will be relieved altogether from the obligation of rendering their jury service in the County Borough.

In Dublin, the provisions of the Bill will have no practical effect, because the system of mixed panels of County Borough and County jurors already applies there under the existing law. The present position with regard to other County areas is not unsatisfactory because the provisions of the existing law with regard to Circuit Court juries are sufficient to deal with the kinds of hardship to which I have referred. These provisions consist of power to specify Districts from which juries may be drawn and this power, which in the Bill is extended to High Court juries as well, can be exercised to provide the most evenly distributed frequency of service that is possible, consistent with the avoidance of bringing jurors from too far in the County.

With these provisions there will now be power to regulate most effectively everywhere, within the limits of the Counties, the areas from which to call jurors, and instances of excessive frequency of service or of long travel in relation to particular localities can be equitably dealt with.

In addition to the foregoing, the Bill contains a very minor adjustment of the law relating to juries for lunacy matters, in order to cover specifically the type of case where there are proceedings in the form of a Commission de lunatico inquirendo.

I did not entirely catch what the Minister said in his opening speech but it seems to me that the main effect of this Bill is in Section 2 which simply applies elsewhere what is at present practised in Dublin. I think that is what the Minister said. I understand that under the 1937 Act it is possible to have what is called a mixed jury, drawn partly from a county borough and partly from a county. Must they be always mixed? While it is right to have the permission to draw from the county boroughs and from the county, is it necessary always to have a mixed jury? I do not see why it is necessary to have them mixed all the time.

The Minister also referred to the minor point covered by Section 5 where there are lunacy proceedings. Section 5 says:

Whenever a panel of jurors is lawfully in attendance before a commissioner under a commission de lunatico inquirendo——

and goes on to provide that for the purpose of the section the commissioner shall be a court and also a judge of such court. I thought that was an effort to make sure that the commissioner could not be ousted from his jurisdiction because of an article in the Constitution.

It says that except in criminal matters certain limited types of jurisdiction may be handed over to people who are not judges and people may be tried before courts which are not courts established under the Constitution. I thought this was an effort to make sure, by calling a commissioner a judge—he is ordinarily a judge—and by saying that the tribunal over which he presides is a court, that there was a way of getting over the difficulty. The Minister might advert to that in replying and also to the other points which I have mentioned. Section 65 is being repealed but I do not know to what that section refers.

The Bill is merely a machinery measure which is quite welcome.

There are a few points I want to make about what is included in the Bill and about what has not been included in it. Deputy McGilligan referred, as did the Minister, to the fact that under Section 2 of the Bill there will be power to have a mixed jury from two different areas. It seems it will be unnecessarily cumbersome to have two different people sending jurors to the same jury panel. In Dublin, for example, it will mean that the city sheriff and the county sheriff will both be sending people to the same jury panel and in Cork the same, I think, will apply. That seems to be an unnecessarily unwieldy and cumbersome procedure. It will lead to a good deal of inconvenience and I think inevitably to some extra expense with no commensurate advantage.

While it is necessary to ensure that the persons qualified as jurors in one area would be liable to be called for another area also, at the same time it should be possible to devise a scheme by which they would not be called for the same jury panel.

Apart from what is in the Bill there are certain things not in it and whose inclusion would, perhaps, have made it a better Bill. Section 62, I think, of the 1927 Act provides that jurors are paid 5/- per man for a civil jury. There is a great difference between what 5/- was worth in 1927 and what it is worth now. In those days it would have met the juror's subsistence for lunch and, perhaps, for tea. Certainly, it does not do anything like that now and it is an unnecessary hardship on a man who has to serve on a jury that not merely is he away from his own business and suffering the loss of his absence but he also has to pay out of his own pocket for his subsistence. I think we must move with the value of money in that respect and that it will be necessary to provide in the immediate future that something other than the figure fixed 34 years ago is paid to those who do what is a public service. We must regard it as such to serve on a jury but nevertheless a public service which it is not reasonable to ask them to do at their own expense.

From time to time there is considerable agitation that jurors should be paid. It is very difficult to arrive at any method by which you can get a yardstick to pay people what they have lost on an equitable basis. The man employed by a big firm and who serves on a jury probably does not lose anything. He may have to do a bit of extra overtime to catch up on his work, but his firm continue to pay him. The man who runs his own business, a one-man business, loses very heavily in carrying out this public service particularly if he is involved in a case of any magnitude or one that lasts any length of time. It is very hard to find a method of reimbursement that is fair without the possibility that there would be a profit for serving on a jury for some and a loss for others. I would violently oppose anything that would mean in any circumstances that anybody could get a profit from so serving. However, that is an entirely different consideration to that of not being out of pocket to the same degree and the Minister should give that serious consideration.

Under Section 3 of the 1927 Act the only persons liable for jury service are rated occupiers of premises and included in the word "premises" are not only houses but lands. The tenant of a house or a flat in respect of which the landlord is the rated occupier is not liable for jury service. A person living in a house provided by his employers is not liable; members of the family of the person who is the rated occupier are similarly not liable. One can consider, for example, a man aged 58 who has three sons aged 25-30 living in one house. The father of the family is liable for jury service but none of the three sons are liable.

Because the number of people liable for such service is so seriously restricted their turn comes round unpleasantly often. If the number liable was extended it would mean a far lesser burden on those who are called because they would be called less often.

In these days I think none of us would agree that the rateability of a person is a proper test upon which to determine his liability for jury service. Certainly, with the extension in all social strata of the use of the flat which is not separately rated it would seem that there is undoubtedly a necessity to consider changes in that respect. I would urge the Minister, therefore, to consider such a problem to see if the numbers of those liable to be called could be extended to ensure that those who have to give such service would not be called too frequently.

In parts of the country there is a very great hardship imposed on jurors from the point of view of travelling. The most striking example is possibly the juror who has to travel from Castletownbere to Cork. I heard Castletownbere described by the Minister for Agriculture the other day as "a little place," much to the annoyance of Deputy Michael Pat Murphy. Whatever its size, it is about 100 miles from Cork. If a juror has to travel 100 miles to Cork and remain there for a fortnight to act on criminal juries without getting any expenses that is imposing a very unfair burden on one particular citizen.

One of the reasons why jurors are called more frequently at the moment is because the jury books are not brought up to date. I am advised that it may very often be 15 years before a jury book is revised. The revision is done under, I think, Sections 21 and 22 of the Act of 1927. If my information is correct—I think the Minister will find it is—it means that during the whole of that 15 years anyone who dies or reaches the age of 65 is removed from the book, but no new people are added. Therefore, the number in the book gradually goes down year by year and that means a more frequent rota and more frequent service for those who are left, putting on them an unfair share of this burden of public service.

I am told that in certain parts of the country there are people properly liable under the existing law for jury service, because they are rated occupiers. There are some who have been rated occupiers for ten years and upwards, but they have never been put on the jury panel because the jury book is revised so very seldom. So far as my own personal experience is concerned, that does not happen in Kildare. I am told that it is the position in Cork and there are people who can be identified in the city of Cork who should have been on the jury panel for the last ten years, but they are not on the panel because the book has not been revised. I understand the panel survives until it is completely and absolutely exhausted. That is a very bad arrangement. It is a matter to which the Minister should give immediate attention.

As Deputy McGilligan said, the Bill so far as it goes is welcome. My only complaint is that it does not go nearly far enough. It does not deal with some of the really outstanding and pressing problems. Even in respect of those with which it does deal, I think it could have dealt with them in a much tidier way.

I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to ask the Minister whether he has considered another problem in relation to juries, namely, whether it might not be better to have no jury at all in a civil action. There is universal acceptance that it is desirable that there should be a jury in a criminal action so that judgement will depend on the joint wisdom of several rather than on the particular determination of one; with the best will in the world, a judge might become prejudiced on certain aspects of a case before him. There are not the same dangers of prejudice in a civil action and I think my suggestion ought to be seriously examined. I shall not put it any further at this stage. The civil actions arise mainly out of motor accidents. Across the water juries have been abolished in such civil actions. I do not know whether or not that has been a success but I think the Minister would be well advised to inquire into its working there with a view to adopting a similar system here.

It is a matter—Deputy McGilligan will contradict me on this if I am wrong—for a jury to decide the manner in which it reaches a verdict in relation to damages. A system has grown up in which all 12 jurors write down a figure and that total is then divided by 12. That may be a convenient way for a jury to get out of this very onerous service but it can scarcely be held that such a system produces the results it should. Inevitably there is almost always one junior who feels so strongly—I shall use no stronger word—that the case is not being sufficiently appreciated by his colleagues and he adds a global figure ten times the figure he really considers appropriate. In that way he believes he will offset any wrong his colleagues will do.

For example, 11 jurors each write down £1,000; one juror writes down £30,000 though he believes about £1,500 would be a fair assessment. He writes £30,000 to counterbalance the others and bring the assessment up. When the system has come to that in terms of assessment of monetary damages I suggest it is time to examine it carefully to see whether or not something else might be substituted for it. I am not suggesting at all that it should be thrown out automatically and without examination. There are considerable dangers in doing away with it.

There have been considerable abuses in its working and it becomes therefore, so far as I understand it, a matter for consideration, and careful consideration, to decide whether it is better that the system should be retained exactly as it is or whether there should be some change. I think it is a pity when the Minister was bringing in the Bill to the House, even though I accept that it was on a limited field, that he did make the Bill on such a limited field and did not give consideration to the other matters I have mentioned.

Mr. Ryan

I hope that the Minister and his associates in the Department do not claim that this is one of the many Bills which necessitate the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice. This is only one of the many Bills of a similar kind which are pigeon-holed in the Department of Justice and which every Government knows it can call on at short notice when they are short of any other form of legislation. Nevertheless, I suppose it is an ill wind that blows nobody good and we can rejoice that this very necessary Bill has now come before the House.

I am sorry that so far only lawyers have spoken to the Bill for this is a Bill which affects laymen more than lawyers because laymen can be called upon to serve on juries and lawyers cannot. There are two other classifications of people who are not available for jury service and I think that some steps should be taken to make them available for jury service; No. 1, because they are the type of people who would make excellent jurors and No. 2, because if they were called for jury service it would relieve the burden which all too frequently falls on other jurors. I refer first of all to the vast mass of civil servants. I think it is wrong that civil servants should not be called upon for jury service.

I appreciate the reason is that the Minister for Finance for the time being feels that the public should not have to pay for the services of a civil servant when he is doing anything but his Civil Service work. But they ought to some extent try to relieve the liability which too frequently in jury service falls on others or we may have to face up to paying the jurors out of Exchequer funds a reasonable amount to compensate them. If civil servants were to be available in Dublin City and Cork City it would add greatly to the pool of jurors and I have a feeling that civil servants would not need to get medical certificates to excuse their absence as do people in private occupations.

We are all aware that within the last week or thereabouts one judge had to say that he had good reason to doubt some twelve doctors' certificates which had been produced to him in respect of people liable for jury service and any practical person knows that unfortunately, only too frequently, would-be jurors avoid service by getting doctors' certificates on rather flimsy excuses. I think the vast army of civil servants ought to be available for jury service and that they should be no longer exempted.

There is another much smaller group who avoid jury service because they are entitled to exemption; the office they hold does not confer exemption on them but if they claim it they can get it. I refer to Peace Commissioners. We all know that, certainly in the cities and towns, many businessmen seek the appointment of Peace Commissioner not to perform the duties of that office but to avoid jury service. It cheapens the office when it is merely got as an excuse to avoid jury service and it is unfair to the people who have not got the post of Peace Commissioner that others who are similarly circumstanced are enabled by reason of exemption to avoid jury service.

I think that in future P.C.s should not be exempted except in relation to a charge which was originally before them. Obviously if a person is brought before a Peace Commissioner in the initial stages by the Garda Síochána it would be most undesirable that the particular Peace Commissioner should sit on a jury which would hear a criminal charge against that man. But I can see no objection to a Peace Commissioner serving on juries when he has not already had something to do with the case. Even if we accept the argument in relation to criminal work, Peace Commissioners ought to be available for civil work and if so it would prevent a considerable amount of the onerous duties falling on other jurors at the present time.

I would not go all the way with Deputy Sweetman when he wants to see all the civil cases taken out of the hands of juries. I believe that 12 honest men and true can bring in as honourable a verdict in relation to a civil matter, for damages or otherwise, as can one man. One man does not become a god; he does not lose all the human vices to which we are all heir merely because he wears a wig and we have had cases where we have had members of the judiciary with bees in their bonnets about some particular action or other, giving decisions which are not in keeping with the facts of the particular case. But where you select on a broad basis twelve reasonable citizens, then I think you may get a fair verdict.

It may be in some cases that laymen err on the side of generosity when they feel an insurance company is involved, but I think it is the lesser evil. I agree that the ancient basis of calling jurors, merely because of their qualifications as rated occupiers is unreal. In this day and age there are many people who are not rated occupiers who are of greater wealth, greater substance, greater independence and of broader education than people who are rated occupiers. I think that there are many tradesmen who make perhaps better jurors than many of the jurors we have at the present time. I think there are thousands of people in the land who would make excellent jurors although they are not rated occupiers and it seems a pity that we have not yet devised some system whereby such people would be liable for jury service. I think that one of the reasons we have not done it is that we feel perhaps if we extend the field from which we can draw jurors we will have to bring in a reasonable scheme to compensate them while they are carrying out jury service. I think that the dictates of justice and fair play both to an accused, and civil litigants, and others, necessitate that we should bring about this remedy and bring it about very soon.

I think it a pity that in this country we do not have more women on our juries. As I understand the position women are not appointed as jurors unless they apply to become appointed as jurors. Because the number of women who have stepped out of line to apply for appointment is so few, we do not have any women on our juries. There are many cases, both civil and criminal, where women, because of their particular disposition, would make better jurors than men. In this modern responsible age we ought to have a number of women on every jury.

At present if a few women, who would be considered cranks, just as the suffragettes were in their day, volunteer for jury service and are called into court, the inevitable practice is that the solicitor acting for the parties involved objects to them as jurors merely because they are women. I think that is a slight on us. It shows we are very immature and that we have not yet appreciated the valuable services which women can offer in a court of justice. On that account, I should like to see that discrimination between men and women removed as far as jury service is concerned. It should be precisely on the same basis.

We ought to remove the qualification of being a rated occupier and we should extend the right of jury service to people who have had a secondary education. According to the statistics produced by the Minister for Education, up to 70 per cent. of our people are now getting education up to the age of 16—not indeed that I think that would qualify many of them for jury service. But certainly a much larger proportion of our people are getting a broader education than they used to get, and all of them ought to be available for jury service. Other matters in relation to this Bill have already been queried by Deputy McGilligan and I do not intend to repeat those queries. I look forward, however, to the Minister's reply.

When I came into this House ten years ago one of the first questions I asked was if it was intended to pay jurors or not. I was full of hope in those days when I got the reply that the matter was under active consideration. As I know the position now, I think jurors are still unpaid; and there does not seem to be any indication in this Bill that the Minister is thinking on those lines at all.

Reading through this Bill, it appears to me to confer benefits on Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford, but it is not going to ease the position as far as jurors in the average rural constituency are concerned. I want to put the position to the Minister from the point of view of a rural juror. In my own county, Wexford, there is only one town where the Circuit Court is held. The length of the county, from its northern extremity to Wexford town, is a matter of about 32 or 33 miles; and from other parts jurors have considerable distances to travel. If they get a summons to attend court, they have to go.

The majority of jurors, naturally, are farmers. It very often happens that right at the busy time, at the sowing season or harvest—our Sessions are held in Spring and Autumn—the farmer may be called away from his farm and brought 30 odd miles to Wexford to answer a summons as a juror only to find, when he gets there, he is not wanted at all. Or he may find that the case is adjourned and he has to spend the whole day there. If the case is on the following day, he has to come back again at his own expense.

Medical certificates have been mentioned here. There was one judge in this country, who is now retired, who would not accept a medical certificate unless the doctor who issued the certificate appeared and gave evidence on behalf of the juror. That meant considerable expense to the man concerned. A man summoned as juror, who was not able to attend because he was genuinely ill, had to issue a medical certificate and had to pay a doctor to travel to Wexford to appear and give evidence on his behalf before the judge. In the light of these facts I can only express great disappointment that this question in regard to the payment of jurors, which has been asked not alone of this Minister but of every Minister on several occasions since I came into the House in 1951, has always been met with the reply that the matter is under consideration.

I should like the Minister to tell us, when replying, if this matter has been under consideration, what consideration has motivated him to do nothing about it in this Bill. It is a flagrant case of injustice and nothing else. Why should people be taken from their business, have to travel miles and spend a day, or maybe two days, waiting about a court and get nothing at all? I believe I am right in saying that a criminal jury get nothing at all and that a civil jury are entitled to £3 divided amongst them. That is a matter the Minister could earnestly consider.

With regard to Deputy Ryan's suggestion that we should extend jury service to the public as a whole and that it should not be confined to ratepayers. I do not think I agree with that. A jury's job is a highly responsible one. If you are to get satisfactory results, you must have the people with the most stable outlook and stable situation in the country. I think you get that more from the ratepaying class, which mainly consists of the heads of households and people somewhat more mature than the ordinary individual.

I hope the Minister will give some explanation to the House why jurors are not being paid and, if they are not going to be paid, why every Minister, presumably acting on advice from his officials, has given the same answer: that they are going to be paid or that the matter is under consideration.

It is a strange anomaly that the matters raised were matters not contained in the Bill, while very little was said in regard to what is contained in the Bill. Deputy McGilligan asked was it permissible at present to have mixed juries.

The answer to that is that Section 31 of the 1927 Juries Act provides that in Dublin juries must be mixed, that is, drawn partly from the city and partly from the county.

Of course. My question was the other point.

The object of this Bill in the first instance was to bring relief to a very severely tried section of the community in Cork city. These people were being called on for jury service at least once every 16 months, whereas in most other districts the rotation is about once in every ten years. That matter was brought to my attention on a number of occasions, and not so very long ago by a member of the Opposition. I deemed that a very severe trial on these people, that they should be asked to render jury service every 16 months whereas in most other cases it was every ten years. This Bill will not completely alleviate their hardship, but it will bring a considerable degree of relief. We hope by reason of the fact that we bring parts of the county into the borough that we shall bring in a sufficient number of the population to add names to the jury list. As a result of that move we hope to be able to reduce the period of service to about once every four years. Even that, in comparison with other districts, is still reasonably difficult.

Deputy Sweetman wanted to know why it was that the jury record book was not being dealt with more promptly. He gave the impression that when people die or reach the age of 65 years they went off the register and that the book of records was being continually depleted as a result. My information is that that is not correct. The position is that a juror is asked to serve only once in the lifetime of that book of records. Therefore, I cannot see Deputy Sweetman's point of view. Either he has been misinformed on that point or he is misinterpreting the regulations.

As I have said, most of the discussion related to matters that are not contained in the Bill and it would be highly undesirable for me to answer questions that are not relevant to the Bill, such as the question of the payment of jurors.

Is not the purpose of the Bill to ease the situation for jurors?

I brought in this Bill specifically to bring relief to a certain section of the community that require relief. If it is thought desirable to bring in an all-embracing Bill containing all the matters referred to by Deputies, such as payment of jurors, the right of women to sit on juries and so on, that is a matter for another day or another Minister or another Government.

Or another Stage of this Bill.

I am dealing only with a certain aspect of jury service that I think should be dealt with and in regard to which, perhaps, if it had been brought to the attention of Ministers in former days, they also might have realised the hardship that was being imposed upon these people and might have taken the same type of action that I am taking now. I am not suggesting for a moment that I am dealing with all the ills from which jurors may suffer. Therefore, I feel it would be undesirable for me to answer all the questions that have been put up.

Deputy Sweetman wanted my opinion as to whether civil cases should be tried by a judge without a jury or not. I am pretty certain—I am sure Deputy McGilligan will verify this—that even in legal circles that is a matter for dispute—as to whether civil trials should be judged by a judge with a jury or a judge without a jury. I could not give any opinion on that. First of all, I would not be competent to do so. I am sure that on that aspect there are many varying opinions.

Deputy Sweetman referred to the fact that there were great hardships caused by jurors having to come very long distances. He mentioned one of the things that I was made aware of, that is, jurors having to travel as far as from Berehaven to Cork City. That was an undoubted hardship, especially when one considers that these people had not only to travel that distance of roughly 100 miles but had also to pay their own expenses to get there and perhaps had to keep themselves while in the city. That will not happen under this Bill. They will be completely and entirely relieved of that and will have to serve on juries only in their own district or the surrounding area. Therefore, I can conclude by saying that the Bill will bring necessary relief to the people of Cork City especially but also to the people of the other areas referred to in the Bill.

I asked one question and it has been misunderstood. I knew it was possible to have a mixed jury in Dublin, that is, juries drawn partly from the borough and partly from the county. What I was asking and intended to ask was what was the reason for insisting on a mixed jury, why not have it possible to have a jury drawn entirely from the county borough or entirely from the county or mixed as between the two?

While I am on that point, I do not know who decides, so to speak, the proportions of the mixture. I assume it is the county register. I presume it can be, say, 10 per cent. would be from the county, 90 per cent. would be from the borough.

I want to come to the further point of freedom, not insisting on anything but allowing the jury panel in Dublin to be made up entirely from the borough, entirely from the county or partly from one or partly from the other. That was the point of my question.

I can only assume that the reason is the same as in the case of Cork. We were so limited as to the number of people available for service in Cork City that we had to go outside and bring people in from far away in the county.

I realise that this is giving the benefits of what Dublin has to the other areas, but I do not see why it must be a mixed jury.

It has been operating that way since the 1927 Act was brought in and there have not been any complaints so far as I am aware.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take the Committee Stage?

This day week.

There were certain points raised, all of which I assume, although I am not asking the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to rule on them yet—the question of payment of jurors, women juries and whether there should be juries at all in civil actions—are relevant to this measure.

They may be rele-vant——

I am not making any point as to whether the Minister should or should not have answered on each point that was raised but, as expressions of view have been given, it is quite possible that people may want to move amendments along those lines. There is no great rush about this, is there? Could the Committee Stage not be left over for 10 days? If there is any rush, of course, we will not press it.

There is no rush whatsoever. Say this day fortnight if you like. The point is that the Bill is intended to bring relief to people who require relief.

It could not be operated before the Long Vacation.

This day fortnight would do as far as that is concerned.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 29th March, 1961.